Parents lobby Florida lawmakers on medical marijuana

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 09, 2014 6:55 PM

By Bill Cotterrell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Parents of children suffering from severe epilepsy and other illnesses got a sympathetic reaction on Thursday from Florida lawmakers considering the legalization of a new marijuana strain that shows promising results for controlling seizures.

"We don't have time to wait," said Paige Figi, the mother of a 7-year-old girl for whom the strain "Charlotte's Web" is named.

Figi, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, told lawmakers during a three-hour committee hearing that her daughter could not leave Colorado, where "Charlotte's Web" is legal, because of her dependence on the specialized strain, which does not get users high.

Its use has helped reduce her daughter's seizures to one or two a month, compared with hundreds previously, she said.

Figi's appearance came as organizers in Florida work to put a proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical use of marijuana on state ballots during the November congressional election, the latest effort in a national campaign to reform laws banning the drug.

Florida state officials are fighting the ballot initiative, which is also opposed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican leaders of the state legislature.

The use of "Charlotte's Web" is viewed by Florida lawmakers as a separate issue from legalizing the medical use of marijuana, and state legislators have invited parents to testify about uses for the marijuana strain.

The strain is low in TCH, the pyschoactive compound that gives users the feeling of being high. The product, which has no value to traditional marijuana consumers and comes as an oil, is high in the compound cannabidiol, or CBD, which helps calm seizures.

Figi said doctors are advising patients to move to Colorado, which legalized marijuana for recreational use as of January 1. She said there are hundreds of families with children suffering from

Davet Syndrome and other forms of seizures that have responded to marijuana when all else failed.

Coy Browning and his wife, Elizabeth, brought their 21-month-old daughter, Isla Grace, to the hearing. Browning, a lawyer in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, said he bought a home in Breckenridge, Colorado, so his daughter can get the drug if Florida does not legalize the marijuana oil.

"If I have to, once it gets bad enough, I'll have my wife take her out there," said Browning.

Another parent, Renee Petro of Tampa, said her son, Branden, developed a condition called FIRES -- fibril infection-related epilepsy syndrome -- about four years ago.

Now 12, she said, her son "talks about killing himself, constantly. He says he's tired of being sick, and would rather 'be up there.'"

Petro said she will move to Colorado, if necessary. Several other parents who testified said they know families whose children have died from illnesses that might be helped by the "Charlotte's Web" strain.

A Republican lawmaker, Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Baptist minister, told the parents he is adamantly opposed to any kind of legalization of marijuana for non-medical purposes.

But he agreed with their testimony.

"I think this is not substance abuse," said VanZant. "It's using substances wisely."

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Dan Grebler)